Amending Turkey's animal welfare law would be bad news for street dogs
Concern is quickly rising over a proposed amendment to Turkey’s 2004 Animal Protection Law - No.5199 – which could be disastrous for the country’s roaming dogs.
In 2004, Turkey passed animal welfare legislation which, in part, outlined an approach to controlling the country’s roaming dog population.
This plan reflected tolerance towards street dogs, and involved the capture, sterilization, vaccination and then return of dogs to the areas from which they came – a method commonly referred to as “CNVR” (Capture, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return).
But now, a proposed amendment to No.5199 would take the “R” out of CNVR and instead have the dogs moved permanently into shelters and “natural parks” – large outdoor spaces where dogs would be confined indefinitely.
There is no assurance that these shelters or long-term “natural parks” would be managed in a manner that didn’t result in dog suffering. And Turkish activists are raising concerns about the care these dogs may or may not receive, with some believing dogs would be dumped in remote corners of cities and left to fend for themselves.
Any legislation which would result in the lifetime confinement of dogs in shelters or restricted spaces in which their basic needs can never be met is not only bad policy, it is inherently cruel.
Without appropriate care and supervision, sheltering facilities and dog confinement operations often become hotbeds of stress and disease. And when these facilities are meant to house dogs for the rest of their lives, those lives may often be brief and miserable as a result of untreated illnesses and chronic psychological distress.
But the issue with this proposed amendment goes far deeper than problems associated with insufficient care and poor shelter management - it goes to the heart of what it means to adopt effective animal welfare legislation.
Without good implementation and enforcement, animal welfare policies are just words on paper. And even the best enforcement is inadequate when laws regarding population management don’t address the desires and needs of a community and its animals.
If the original, 2004 animal welfare legislation had been sufficient to solve problems associated with Turkey’s roaming dogs, there likely wouldn’t be a need to amend that legislation today.
Good policy takes implementation and enforcement into account, as this is key when turning policy on paper into solutions on-the-ground. Reports have shown that the dog population management approach outlined in No.5199 was neither adequately implemented nor enforced.
Policy awareness and compliance, as well as implementation of humane dog control and catching methods were substandard and below OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) guidelines. Even if CNVR were the right policy, without government support and enforcement it didn’t have a fighting chance.
But using CNVR alone to manage Turkey’s dogs - even if it was effectively implemented - likely wouldn’t have solved their problems. CNVR only addresses dogs once they’re on the street, it doesn’t prevent them from getting there or ensure adequate lifetime supervision.
A CNVR-only policy is based on the assumption that roaming dogs are not owned, that those roaming dogs are reproducing and creating more homeless dogs, and that they are the only source of dogs and puppies on the street.
This means that if CNVR was being used as the only management tool, it would never have gotten to the heart of the problem in a country where roaming dogs come to be on the street for a variety of reasons.
In addition, CNVR alone won’t change ownership practices, it won’t control nuisance, dangerous, and unwanted animals, and it won’t prevent new dogs from roaming through communities.
With the myriad of interventions available to tackle dog management, knowing where to begin can seem daunting. But the International Companion Animal Management Coalition (ICAM) has not only published guidance on the humane management of dog populations, they have a version that has been translated into Turkish.
I would urge anyone interested in developing humane, sustainable approaches to dog management in Turkey to share this document, and urge Turkish policy-makers to drop the proposed 2012 amendment and begin looking at legislation that supports a comprehensive, humane and more importantly, effective and sustainable, approach.
It should be noted that this same amendment to No.5199, which is so troublesome for its creation of permanent animal confinement, also calls for stricter punishment of animal abusers, which is commendable. Throwing out the amendment in its entirely would mean that to avoid a potentially devastating policy for Turkey’s street dogs, improvements to anti-cruelty legislation will also be thwarted.
This is a shame, but by no means an end to animal welfare and anti-cruelty policy improvements in Turkey. The passage of No.5199 in 2004 showed Turkish citizens to be people who care about animal welfare, and I can only hope that the spirit and compassion which drove that initial legislation will once again be harnessed into finding humane solutions for the people and dogs of their country.